Heather Swain, who was announced as GW’s new vice president for communications and marketing earlier this week, will withdraw her acceptance following widespread criticism for her role in a sexual assault case while she worked at Michigan State University.
A petition calling on officials to rescind Swain’s offer received more than 1,350 signatures as of Saturday. When reached for comment, University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Swain has withdrawn her acceptance of the role.
“University President Thomas LeBlanc announced that Heather Swain has withdrawn her acceptance of the position of vice president for communications and marketing,” Nosal said in an email.
The petition called her hiring “offensive” and “inappropriate” because of her role in the investigation of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and professor at Michigan State University who was sentenced on child pornography and multiple sexual assault charges.
Nosal declined to say if Swain’s handling of the Nassar case was considered during the hiring process.
Investigators said in a 2018 report that Swain, who has helped lead Michigan State’s communications in various roles for nearly 15 years, told a trustee to copy Michigan State’s legal counsel on an email to other trustees in order to “maintain privilege” even though the email did not seek legal advice.
“Our skepticism of MSU’s assertion of privilege was not unfounded,” the State of Michigan’s independent special counsel said in the report. “From just the emails that MSU voluntarily disclosed, investigators caught a glimpse into MSU’s culture of anti-transparency.”
Swain did not return a request for comment.
“Join me in condemning the hiring of Heather Swain and asking GW to remove her from her position,” the petition states. “There are plenty of qualified candidates that do not have a history of protecting a sexual predator.”
Alisa Kingsbury, a rising junior and former Hatchet reporter who created the petition, said she was inspired to protest Swain’s hiring because of the success of recent petitions created by members of the GW community, including one that lead to a Pass/No Pass grading option this spring.
“I saw so many people posting about Swain on social media but didn’t see any sort of petition or action item going around,” Kingsbury said in an email. “While I don’t think petitions are the answer for the world’s problems like they have been made out to be in the past several months, I think an issue like this can be affected positively with a petition, especially due to the inability to physically protest the hiring on GW’s campus.”
Kingsbury said she found Swain’s hiring “appalling” for “many” reasons, including her role in the Nassar case. The petition alleges that Swain helped “shield and protect a known sexual predator” and states her hiring is “especially” concerning after dozens of students anonymously shared their stories of sexual and intimate violence at GW over the past month.
“They either thought that we wouldn’t figure out who she was and what she had done at MSU or that we wouldn’t care,” Kingsbury said. “I know my fellow students to always do their research and to put effort into righting the wrongs they see.”